For one brief moment Wednesday while fielding questions in front of his locker after the Orioles' 7-1 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates, right-hander Jake Arrieta allowed his tough-guy, super-competitive guard down.
Yes, he admitted, he needed this.
He needed to pitch well. He needed to show he could get out big-league hitters. He needed it for himself, for his teammates, for his manager and for his own confidence that was shaken so badly last week when he was nearly demoted to the minors and ultimately moved to the bullpen.
“It was big, I will say that. But it was for more reasons than one, not only that, [for me] mentally, but to stay in the hunt right now,” said Arrieta, who allowed seven hits and a walk in seven innings while tying a career high with nine strikeouts.
“Our division is continuing to win games, and we've got a lot of non-division games ahead of us, so we need to pile as many wins up as we possibly can. Every win is big. To get one like that right there, to win a series and possibly sweep these guys tomorrow, it's big for us. But, for me, it's a real big start.”
It was the club's fourth win in a row and sixth in eight games. The Orioles (36-26) are now 10 games over .500 with 100 games remaining this season, and they're just one game back of the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East.
Perhaps more important, it halted Arrieta's career-worst six-game losing streak, and it almost didn't happen. Arrieta was supposed to be in the bullpen after giving up nine runs to the Philadelphia Phillies in four innings Friday.
But he drew the spot start when a nose contusion forced scheduled starter Brian Matusz — who had bunted a ball off his face in the hitting cage Tuesday — to have his outing pushed back until Friday.
“He had a good outing [Wednesday] and I'm proud of him. And he served a need we had with Brian, being cautious with him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about Arrieta, who likely will start again Monday. “I don't see why anything he did tonight [would] dictate that he wouldn't do that.”
Arrieta, who admits that his recent struggles may be more mental than physical, only had a four-hour notice that he would be pitching.
“I tapped him on the shoulder about 2:30 in the food room and said, ‘You're pitching tonight,'” Showalter said. That trick is “kind of out of the bag. I can't do it in five days now, so that's a one-time pop. We'll see.”
Arrieta, the club's Opening Day starter who had a 6.32 ERA coming in, thought he might get the call, but he wasn't counting on it.
“I was kind of under the idea that I'll come to the ballpark and if they need me to pitch, I'll pitch,” said Arrieta (3-8). “And that's kind of how it worked out. I was clear-minded, with one goal in mind, and that was to go out there and win a game for our team.”
It was another one of those is-this-really-happening kind of storylines in the Orioles' improbable 2012 season. Wednesday's victory, before a spirited announced crowd of 23,238, had plenty of them.
Wilson Betemit, who was batting .217 and hadn't homered since May 22, had a huge game, going 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs — the second time he's driven in that many runs as an Oriole.
“He's been a little down on himself,” Showalter said of Betemit. “He's been frustrated, and I'm glad to see him get to go home knowing he made a big contribution tonight.”
And Chris Davis belted his second homer in two games, but this one was particularly impressive. On the two-run shot in the seventh, Davis shattered his bat, with only a handle shard remaining in his hand while the rest of the wood careened into the home dugout.
“Well, I was shocked, more than anything,” said Davis, who said he's hit one other broken-bat homer in his career. “You take a swing and look over and half the team is on the floor in the dugout. You don't expect that ball to go out of the ballpark.”
The night, though, belonged to Arrieta, who admitted to feeling “kind of lost,” after Friday's loss to the Phillies. But there was no such implosion Wednesday for Arrieta, who won for the first time since May 2. The only run the Pirates (32-29) scored was on a groundout with the bases loaded in the seventh that was nearly a double play.
The Orioles welcomed Arrieta back to the rotation by scoring plenty of runs, too. He had entered with just 3.53 runs of support per game, fifth worst among American League starters. But offense wasn't a problem for the Orioles against Pittsburgh right-hander Kevin Correia (2-6)
The Orioles scored once in the first when J.J. Hardy singled and Davis followed with a RBI double that bounced off the left-field wall. Pirates left fielder Alex Presley had a chance at it but couldn't make the play, allowing Hardy to score easily.
In the fourth, Presley simply misplayed another ball that led to the Orioles' fourth run. Mark Reynolds led off the inning with a bouncing double down the left-field line that skipped past Presley, allowing Reynolds to get to third. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Betemit sacrifice fly.
Betemit also had an RBI double in the Orioles' two-run second and then homered in the sixth against Correia, who lasted six innings and gave up five runs (four earned).
It was another one of those strange Orioles wins in an early season full of comebacks, bizarre moments and unexpected heroes.
“I think the biggest thing is, Jake filling in tonight. It was a tough spot for him to kind of be thrown in there, but he pitched outstanding and gave us a chance to go out there and be comfortable at the plate,” Davis said. “Wilson obviously swung the bat well. We swung the bat throughout the entire lineup, but I'm proud of Jake for battling and going out there and really shutting them down.”
twitter.com/danconnollysunCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times